The first of four movies based on the 1995 anime known stateside as Neon Genesis Evangelion, this movie covers the first six episodes of the series, with some new scenes (and information), the use of computer animation, and a truncated version of the events covered. Whereas the Evangelion TV series (and here I’m referring to the original series, not the Platinum Edition) was notorious for not enough explanation as to what the fuck was going on, the first movie can be faulted for revealing too much, too soon.
The movie and TV series follow the same plot: some years after mankind was almost wiped out by an event called the Second Impact, beings called Angels begin attacking Earth. The only creatures who can fight them are humanoid machines called Evas, and the only people who can pilot the Evas are 14 year olds. In the TV show and movie, we are introduced to two of the pilots: Ikari Shinji and Ayanami Rei. Other characters include Ikari Gendo, supreme commander of NERV–the agency that built the Evas–Katsurage Misato, Chief of NERV’s Strategic Operations Department, who acts (somewhat) as Shinji’s guardian, and Akagi Ritsuko, Misato’s friend and the scientist in charge of the division responsible for creating Evas.
This movie is more linear and focused than the series was, as the viewers know–right from the beginning–that Gendo has a plan in place that involves Rei (whom he treats as his own daughter) and Shinji, his estranged (and real) son. More focus is also placed on the relationships between people, and how those relationships are observed by outsiders (and mirrored in some of their relationships). For example, Misato’s relationship with her father is similar to Shinji’s relationship with his. And if Shinji is still as fatalistic as he was in the TV series, at least he shows signs of standing up for himself (and Misato siding with him when his father wants to replace him in the middle of a mission with Rei). One also gets more of a sense that Gendo knows exactly how his son will act, and needs him to act that way in order for his plan (which is as old as Shinji is) to take effect.
In addition, people in the movie, unlike people in the TV series, seem to know that the Second Impact was caused by an Angel, not a meteorite, and Misato knows about the existence of Lilith, and that if the Angels come in contact with her, it could cause a Third Impact: ideas that are hinted at in the series, but much, much later. In fact, Misato seems to be more in the know than she was in the series about NERV, and humankind seems to know more about the Angels. Also, SEELE’s goals are made much more explicit, as they comment on the prophecies in the Dead Sea Scrolls more directly than they did in the TV show. And a line by Gendo about the Angels who ate of the tree of life wanting to destroy those who ate of the tree of knowledge reinforces the religious overtones and undertones than make this work much richer than your typical futuristic robot anime.
Still, some things are done better in the series. Relating the first battle of Eva 01 as a memory of Shinji’s while he’s in the hospital is much more effective than showing the whole event as it occurred in real time. In the former example, the audience got to see the results of the battle before being shown what had happened, which added to the suspense. Also, because there’s more of a focus on the main characters, Shinji’s classmates don’t get as much face time, only appearing when necessary, and disappearing just as quickly. Finally, some (but not all) of that wonderfully atmospheric music from the show is gone, replaced–in some cases–by piano music that doesn’t do the scenes justice.
On the other hand, the closing credits include a new song by Utada Hikaru (“Beautiful World”), and the added budget of a movie allows for a truly epic climactic battle (with a kick-ass new song called “Angel of Doom”, the promotional video of which can be seen on disc 2), which just couldn’t have been done as well as on TV, and reminds one how entertaining and awe-inspiring movies can be. For the ending alone, I would recommend seeing this film, though fans of the series should be warned that Anno Hideaki, the mad genius behind Evangelion , seems to be creating a somewhat altered concept of the TV show here, one that may clash with the conclusions reached in the TV series, but is not necessarily better or worse. For those of you who haven’t seen the series yet, these four movies may end up being an easier way of getting into the story than the series is, yet it should not be your only exposure to Evangelion. The series was unique, then and now, and should be watched and enjoyed on its own.
Note: I watched the film with subtitles, but for those who prefer the dubbed versions, the same cast that did the TV series (and the Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion movies) is back for these films. For those who prefer the subtitled versions, the original Japanese cast is back, as well. The original movie is called Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. 1.11 includes a second disc full of bonus features, though nothing much of note beyond some sneak peaks of the next movie, set to Utada’s version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” some other versions of “Fly Me to the Moon,” similar versions of “Beautiful World,” and two sequences that show the re-imagining of Evangelion (some of this information is also covered in the book that comes with the movie, which explains some of the differences between the TV episodes and this movie, and includes a cast list).
The series explained!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon_Genesis_Evangelion_(anime)
My review of Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance.